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This chapter relates how that when the Israelites calmed down, and seriously to reflect on what had passed, they were sore grieved, and much lamented the case of Benjamin, and were particularly concerned what they should do for wives for those few men that remained, that the tribe might be built up again, ( Judges 21:1-7) and for these they provided wives, partly out of Jabeshgilead, the inhabitants of which came not up to the convention at Mizpeh, and therefore they smote them, men, women, and children, only reserved four hundred virgins, whom they gave to the men of Benjamin, ( Judges 21:8-15), and partly from among the daughters of Shiloh, taken at a yearly feast there, the taking of whom was connived at, the other number not being sufficient, ( Judges 21:16-25).
Ver. 1 . Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpeh , etc.] Where they were there convened, before the war began; after they had heard the account the Levite gave of the affair, which brought them thither; and after they had sent messengers to Benjamin to deliver up the men of Gibeah, that had committed the wickedness; and after they perceived that Benjamin did not hearken to their demand, but prepared to make war with them; then, as they resolved on the destruction of Gibeah, and of all the cities that sent out men against them, even all the inhabitants of them, men, women, and children, entered into an oath, that they would use those men that remained as Heathens, and not intermarry with them, as follows: saying, there shall not any of us give his daughter unto Benjamin to wife ; seeing those that used the wife of the Levite in such a base manner, and those that protected and defended them, deserved to have no wives.
Ver. 2 . And the people came to the house of God , etc.] Not to the city Bethel, as the Targum, Septuagint, and other versions, but to Shiloh, where were the tabernacle and ark; and this is to be understood of the army after they had utterly destroyed the Benjaminites: hence we read of the camp in Shiloh, ( Judges 21:12), here they came not so much to rejoice, and be glad, and to return thanks for the victory they had at last obtained, as to lament the unhappy case of the tribe of Benjamin, and to have counsel and advice, and consider of ways and means to repair their loss: and abode there till even before God ; fasting and praying, instead of feasting and rejoicing: and lifted up their voices, and wept sore ; not so much, or at least not only for the 40,000 Israelites that were slain, but for the tribe of Benjamin, in danger of being lost, as follows.
Ver. 3 . And said, O Lord God of Israel , etc.] Jehovah, the only living and true God, the Being of beings, eternal, immutable, omnipotent and omnipresent, the God of all Israel, of the twelve tribes of Israel, their covenant God and Father; who had shown favour to them in such a peculiar and gracious manner, as he had not to other nations, and therefore hoped he would still have a kind regard unto them, and suffer them to expostulate with him in the following manner: why is this come to pass in Israel ; expressing, as Abarbinel thinks, a concern for the 40,000 men of Israel which fell in the two first battles; but it manifestly refers to the case in the next words: that there should be today one tribe lacking in Israel ; meaning the tribe of Benjamin, which was all destroyed, excepting six hundred men, and these had no wives to propagate the tribe; and therefore, unless some provision could be made for that, it must in a short time be totally extinct; for which they express great concern, it not being their intention when they made the above oath to extirpate them; but such were now the circumstances of things in Providence, that it must perish unless some way could be found to relieve it, and which their oath seemed to preclude; and this threw them into great perplexity.
Ver. 4 . And it came to pass on the morrow, that the people rose early , etc.] The day after their fasting and prayer, and a sense of their present case and circumstances being deeply impressed upon their minds, they rose early in the morning to acts of devotion, and exercises of religion, hoping that being in the way of their duty, the difficulties with which they were perplexed would be removed: and built there an altar ; if this place was Bethel, as Kimchi reasons, there Jacob had built an altar; but that in such a course of years might have been demolished: and if it was Shiloh, there was the tabernacle, and so the altar of the Lord there; wherefore this either signifies the repairing of that, being in ruins, which is not likely, since it was but lately used, ( Judges 20:26) or the building of a new one, which to do in the tabernacle was not unlawful, especially when the number of sacrifices required it, which it is highly probable was the case now, as it was at the dedication of the temple, ( 1 Kings 8:64) though the above mentioned writer thinks, that building an altar signifies, as in many places, only seeking the Lord; but the use for which it was built is expressed: and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings ; both to atone for the sins they had been guilty of in the prosecution of the war, and to return thanks for victory given, and to implore fresh favours to be bestowed upon them.
Ver. 5 . And the children of Israel said , etc.] One to another, after they had offered their sacrifices, and while they were together in Shiloh: who is there among all the tribes of Israel, that came not up with the congregation unto the Lord ? when they were summoned to come to Mizpeh, to consult together about the affair of the Levite’s concubine, as appears by what follows: for they had made a great oath ; in a very awful and solemn manner, with a curse annexed to it, as that about not giving a wife to Benjamin, ( Judges 21:18) concerning him that came not up to the Lord to Mizpeh : not about him who did not go out to battle against Benjamin, nor about every individual that did not come to consult about it; but every city that did not send their proper representatives or quota to assist in that affair: he shall surely be put to death ; this was sent along with the summons, in order to quicken their attention to them.
Ver. 6 . And the children of Israel repented them for Benjamin their brother , etc.] Not that they went to war with them, as if their cause was not good; but for the severity they had exercised towards them, especially in destroying their women and children, and for the fatal consequences like to follow here after, particularly the dissolution of the whole tribe: and said, there is one tribe cut off from Israel this day ; that is, there is a likelihood or great danger of it.
Ver. 7 . How shall we do for wives for them that remain , etc.] By which it seems, as well as by what is after related, that they knew of the six hundred men hid in the rock Rimmon: seeing we have sworn by the Lord ; by the Word of the Lord, as the Targum; and such an oath with them was a sacred thing, and to be kept inviolable, even to their own hurt: that we will not give them of our daughters to wives ; as in ( Judges 21:1) and therefore they must either marry among the Heathens, which was forbidden, or they must make void their oath, or the tribe in a little time would be extinct; these were difficulties they knew not how to surmount, and this was the object of their inquiry.
Ver. 8 . And they said, what one is there of the tribes of Israel that came not up to Mizpeh to the Lord ? etc.] This is asked not only to bring them to justice, and put them to death, according to their oath, who should be found guilty, ( Judges 21:5) but as an expedient to find wives for the surviving Benjaminites; since these, as they came not to Mizpeh, so consequently swore not that they would not give their daughters to Benjaminites; wherefore from among them wives might be given to them, without the violation of an oath: and, behold, there came none to the camp from Jabeshgilead to the assembly ; this was observed by some upon the question put, which caused an inquiry to be made as after related. This city was in the land of Gilead, from whence it had its name, on the other side Jordan, and is placed by Adrichomius in the half tribe of Manasseh; and Jerom says it was a village in his time six miles from the city Pella, upon a mountain, as you go to Gerasa.
Ver. 9 . For the people were numbered , etc.] To know who did come up, and who did not, and particularly to know whether the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead did or not, against whom an information was brought: and, behold, there were none of the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead there ; for as yet none that came had returned home; all came to Shiloh first, to pay their devotion to the Lord; and as none were found among the living, it did not appear they were among the slain; and very probably the muster roll was taken before they went to battle, and they were not on that.
Ver. 10 . And the congregation sent thither twelve thousand men of the valiantest , etc.] That were in their army; in the Vulgate Latin version it is only 10,000; but the Targum, Septuagint, Syriac, and Arabic versions, and Josephus f437 , agree with the Hebrew text. This place, according to Bunting, to which this army was sent, was fifty two miles from Shiloh f438 : and commanded them, saying ; these were the orders they gave them, when they marched out: go and smite the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead with the edge of the sword, with the women and the children ; which it seems was according to the oath they had made, ( Judges 21:5).
Ver. 11 . And this is the thing that ye shall do , etc.] Which they gave them in charge to execute: ye shall utterly destroy every male ; without any reserve, young or old, married or unmarried: and every woman that hath lain by man ; whether lawfully or unlawfully, in a married or unmarried state.
Ver. 12 . And they found among the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead four hundred young virgins , etc.] Or damsel virgins f439 ; damsels that were virgins: that had known no man by lying with any male: which was judged of by their age, and by their unmarried state, and by common report, unless it can be thought they were examined by matrons; but how it was that they were not obliged, or did not think themselves obliged by their oath to put these to death, as well as others, is not easy to say; whether they thought the necessity of the case would excuse it, or they had a dispensation from the Lord for it, on consulting him; however, so it was: and they brought them unto the camp to Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan ; this is observed because that Jabeshgilead was not in the land of Canaan, from whence they were brought, but in the land of Og king of Bashan; only what was on this side Jordan was the land of Canaan, and in that Shiloh was, to which they were brought; and this shows that not the city Bethel, but Shiloh, was the place whither the people or army of Israel came to offer sacrifice after the war was ended.
Ver. 13 . And the whole congregation sent some to speak to the children of Benjamin , etc.] Sent some messengers to them, to call them, and desire them to come to them: that were in the rock Rimmon ; the six hundred men who had hid themselves in a cave in it, of which the people of Israel were informed: and to call peaceably unto them ; to proclaim peace to them, and assure them of it, and to let them know that they had no ill design against them, that they might come safely to them, and would be kindly received and protected by them.
Ver. 14 . And Benjamin came again at that time , etc.] The six hundred Benjaminites returned with the messengers at the same time to the people of Israel, putting confidence in the assurances they had given them of peace and safety: and they gave them wives which they had saved alive of the women of Jabeshgilead ; in doing which they supposed they had not violated their oath, since though they had sworn that they would not give their own daughters, they had not sworn they would not give the daughters of others; and besides, as the men of Jabeshgilead were not at Mizpeh when the oaths were made, they had taken none, and so their daughters might be given in marriage to the Benjaminites, notwithstanding that oath: and yet so they sufficed them not ; there were not wives enough for them all; for they were six hundred men, whereas the daughters of the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead were but four hundred, so that there were two hundred more wanting. Abarbinel interprets the word we render “so” in a different manner, by “right”, as in ( Numbers 27:7) and gives the sense thus, that it was not a point of justice and judgment to do this to the daughters of Jabeshgilead, namely, to save and give them in marriage; but they did this because the people repented for Benjamin, as follows.
Ver. 15 . And the people repented them for Benjamin , etc.] That they had destroyed all their women, and that they had saved no more of the daughters of Jabeshgilead, not a sufficient number to be wives to the Benjaminites: because the Lord had made a breach in the tribes of Israel ; by almost destroying one of them; for though this was done by the Israelites, yet by the permission and according to the will of God, and through his overruling providence.
Ver. 16 . Then the elders of the congregation said etc.] This being the case, that there were not wives enough for them, they were obliged to consult again, and consider of another expedient to provide for them; and this motion came from the elders of the people, not only in years, but in office: how shall we do for wives for them that remain : the other two hundred, who had none: seeing the women are destroyed out of Benjamin ? and so no wives to be had there; and as for the Israelites which came to Mizpeh, who were of all the tribes of Israel, they had solemnly sworn that they would not give any of their daughters to them, and therefore it was a very difficult thing to provide wives for them.
Ver. 17 . And they said, there must be an inheritance for them that be escaped Benjamin , etc.] The escaped are the six hundred men in the rock Rimmon; four hundred of them were supplied with wives, the other two wanted; and as there was an inheritance divided by lot to the tribe of Benjamin, to that tribe and to that only it belonged, and they must have it and no other; it now of right devolved on these six hundred men, and them only, and therefore provision must be made to increase their number, that they may occupy the inheritance they have a right to, rebuild their cities, till their land, cultivate their vineyards and oliveyards, and enjoy all the advantages of their possessions: that a tribe be not destroyed out of Israel ; but the full number of the tribes be preserved, and their inheritances belonging to them, according to the predictions of Jacob and Moses, and the assignment of them by lot unto them by Joshua.
Ver. 18 . Howbeit, we may not give them wives of our daughters , etc.] Though their case was so very necessitous and desperate: for the children of Israel have sworn, saying, cursed be he that giveth a wife to Benjamin , ( Judges 21:1) and therefore without the violation of their oath could not give any of their daughters in marriage to them: wherefore some other way must be devised to help them.
Ver. 19 . Then they said , etc.] Some of the elders that sat in council debating this matter, and considering of ways and means to assist their brethren the Benjaminites, and preserve their tribe from being lost: behold, there is a feast of the Lord in Shiloh yearly ; where the tabernacle then was, and before which the males of Israel were obliged to appear three times of the year; and this was one of them, as is clear by its being called a feast of the Lord; and therefore cannot design any civil festival or fair kept for trade and commerce. Some have thought of the feast of the passover, but it is most likely to be the feast of tabernacles, as Abarbinel takes it to be; which in Jewish writings is emphatically called “the feast”; and the time of year when that was kept was a time of great rejoicing, on account of the fruits of the earth being gathered in, and the reading of the law and especially at the tithe of drawing of water at this feast; insomuch that it is said that he who never saw the rejoicing at drawing of water never saw rejoicing in his life, which was attended with piping, and dancing, and singing. It is pretty strange what Kimchi notes, that this may be either one of the above feasts, or the day of atonement, at which, he says, the daughters of Israel used to go and dance in the vineyards, according to the words of the Rabbins; when though that is reckoned among the feasts, ( Leviticus 23:1-44) it was properly a fast, as it is called, ( Acts 27:9) and all tokens of festivity and joy were forbidden on it; and where these words of their Rabbins are to be met with, he says not: in a place which is on the north side of Bethel ; we rightly supply “in a place”: for the intention is not to describe the situation of Shiloh, which was well known, but a place not far from it, where at this festival the daughters of Shiloh used to dance: on the east side of the highway that goeth up from Bethel to Shechem ; this place lay to the east of a public road, that led from Bethel to Shechem: and on the south of Lebonah ; which Mr. Maundrell takes to be a place now called Kane Leban, which stands on the east side of a delightful vale, having a village of the same name standing opposite to it on the other side of the vale; one of these places, either that Kane or the village, is supposed to be the Lebonah mentioned ( Judges 21:19) to which both the name and situation seem to agree.
Ver. 20 . Therefore they commanded the children of Benjamin , etc.] The two hundred men of the tribe that wanted wives; they ordered them as follows, and which they spake with authority, being the elders of the congregation, ( Judges 21:16) saying, go and lie in wait in the vineyards ; which might belong to Shiloh, or it may be to Lebonah, which perhaps is the same with Bethlaban, famous for its wine with the Misnic writers; who say the second places for wine are Bethrimah and Bethlaban; and I suspect that Bethrimah is the same with Bethrimmon, near which was the rock Rimmon these men were in; now this being the time of year when the vintage was just over, the vines were full of branches and leaves, under which the men might the better hide themselves; and the grapes being gathered, there were no men in the vineyards, and so might lie in wait safely, and under cover.
Ver. 21 . And see, and, behold, if the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance in dances , etc.] As they used to do at this festival, not along with men, but by themselves; and so might the more easily be taken and carried off; and though only males were obliged to appear from all parts at this feast, yet females might come if they would; and, no doubt, from neighbouring places, at least many did; however, the daughters of Shiloh, who dwelt where the tabernacle was, these always attended the feast with demonstrations of joy, and among the rest with dancing, and that as expressive of spiritual and religious joy, as in the case of Miriam, and the Israelitish women, ( Exodus 15:20) and as in latter times the most religious men used to express their joy at this feast; now the two hundred men in the vineyards, which lay near the field where these virgins used to dance at this time, were to watch and observe when they came out of the city thither, and were engaged in such an exercise: then come ye out of the yards, and catch you every man his wife of the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin ; they are directed to rush out at once upon them, as they were dancing, secure, as they thought, from molestation and danger; and they were to take everyone one, not more, and go off directly with them to their own tribe.
Ver. 22 . And it shall be, when their fathers or their brethren come unto us to complain , etc.] Of this rape of their daughters or sisters, or to bring an action against them, and desire they might be summoned before them, the elders of the people, and be tried and judged according to law for what they had done; or to put them upon going to war with them again for such treatment of them: that we will say unto them, be favourable unto them for our sakes ; for the sake of the elders, who advised them to do what they did; or for the sake of us Israelites, your sake and ours, who were too severe upon them, and prosecuted the war with too much vigour, which made what they have done necessary, or otherwise a tribe must have been lost in Israel: because we reserved not to each man his wife in the war ; either in the war with Benjamin, which they carried on with such wrath and fury as to destroy all the women, so that there were no wives left for the men that remained, which they now repented of; or in the war with Jabeshgilead, they did not reserve enough of the women taken, only four hundred virgins, whereas there were six hundred men: but the first seems best: for ye did not give unto them at this time, that you should be guilty ; the meaning is, that if they had any uneasiness upon their minds about the oath which they had taken, not to give any of their daughters in marriage to Benjamin, they need not be disturbed at that, since they did not “give” them to them, but these “took” them by force; which was the scheme these elders contrived to secure from the violation of the oath. This they proposed to say to quiet them, and make them easy, to which other things might have been added as that these were their brethren, and not strangers they were married to, and not to mean men, but to men of large estates, having the whole inheritance of the tribe of Benjamin devolved upon them; and their daughters would be the original mothers of the posterity of that tribe in succeeding ages.
Ver. 23 . And the children of Benjamin did so , etc.] Went and laid wait in the vineyards, and when the daughters of Shiloh came out to dance, they rushed upon them: and took them wives according to their number ; two hundred of them, each man a wife, and no more; for though polygamy was in use in those times, and if at any time necessary, and could be excused, it might seem now; yet it was not indulged to, neither by the elders, nor by the children of Benjamin: of them that danced whom they caught ; the rape of the Sabine virgins by Romulus, at the arena plays and shows, mentioned by various authors f443 , and the carrying off of fifteen Spartan virgins from the dances by Aristomenes the Messenian f444 , are sometimes observed as parallel cases to this, and justified by it, particularly that of Romulus f445 : and they went and returned unto their inheritance ; the six hundred Benjaminites, with their wives, returned to their own tribe, which was their inheritance by lot; and these, being the only survivors, had a right to the whole: and repaired the cities, and dwelt in them : in process of time they rebuilt the cities the Israelites had burnt in the late war, and repeopled them as their posterity increased. And the Jewish writers say, that in later times they were allowed to marry with other tribes as before, since the oath only bound those present at Mizpeh; for they observe, that it ran only, there shall not any of us , etc. not any of our sons; they might give wives to Benjamin, and so in time they became numerous again.
Ver. 24 . And the children of Israel departed thence at that time, every man to his tribe and to his family , etc.] The war being ended, and things settled as well as circumstances would admit of, for the preservation of the tribe of Benjamin, who were the cause of it, and had suffered so much in it; the Israelites that had met at Mizpeh, and who had not fallen in the war, returned to their respective countries, to their wives and children, and the business of their callings: and they went out from thence every man to his inheritance ; divided by lot to them, to their estates and possessions, which each had a right unto.
Ver. 25 . In those days there was no king in Israel , etc.] No supreme magistrate, Joshua being dead, and as yet no judge in Israel had risen up; for all related in the five last chapters of this book were done between the death of Joshua and the time of the judges: every man did that which was right in his own eyes ; there being none to restrain him from it, or punish him for it; and this accounts for the many evil things related, as the idolatry of Micah and the Danites, the base usage of the Levite’s concubine, the extreme rigour and severity with which the Israelites treated their brethren the Benjaminites, the slaughter of the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead, and the rape of the daughters of Shiloh.